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Timothy Series - Lesson Nine

 

Overseers and Deacons,

Hopes and Confessions of Faith

 

1 Timothy Chapter 3 Verses 1-16

John Baugh
October, 2008

 

Overseers and Deacons

 

1It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5(but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

 

8Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.

 

11Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.

12Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

 

14I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

 

16By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:
         He who was revealed in the flesh,
         Was vindicated in the Spirit,
         Seen by angels,
         Proclaimed among the nations,
         Believed on in the world,
         Taken up in glory.

 

 

Have you ever considered how complicated we have made the offices of the church? We have: Ministers, Pastors, Parsons, Vickers, Priests, Deacons, Elders, Stewards, Bishops, Rectors, Vicars, Administrative Councils and probably some positions I have left out, ? - Family Center Managers - ? Leadership in the early churches, such as in Ephesus was a much less structured thing. Of course they had no basketball courts…

 

In chapter three of 1st Timothy, Paul lists the requirements and qualifications for two positions within the church.

 

They include Elder and Deacon.

For the sake of this discussion, elders, overseers and bishops are likely the same position and they are intended to indicate the one who oversees a congregation – a single church. Some denominations have bishops who are appointed the hold the responsibility for numerous churches within a geographic area. Not to say that this is not a worthy position or calling to service, but that type of bishop is never mentioned in the New Testament. 

 

Verse 1: It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.

 

Paul immediately tells Timothy that taking on the responsibility for a congregation as an Overseer or Elder is “a fine work”. Some translations use the term “Noble”. In Paul’s mind, this was a special responsibility, a significant role within the church and a fine, good or noble aspiration for anyone. 

 

Why would this position be worthy of Paul’s admiration?

 

An Overseer, Elder, or head of a congregation has assumed a position of considerable responsibility. Churches these days are most often run as a democracy with the members voting on every decision of any consequence. This was not the case in the early church, such as in Ephesus. In the model of the New Testament church as established by Christ, there is only one head, and that is Jesus himself. We need to always remember that we belong to Christ’s Church. He is the head, the anointed one, the undisputed leader.

 

The overseers of the early church took on all of the responsibility for all of the converts of the church, those who called on the name of Christ. The overseers laid the foundation for the church, which was its teaching, which was the gospel message about the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, and the redemption of sin for all who called on his name.

 

In 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NASB) Paul writes this to the church in Corinth, "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ," That is the Gospel. It is the Apostles’ testimony of the nature, work and being of Jesus Christ; what he was like when they were with him and what he is like today.

 

The first elders of the church in Jerusalem were the Apostles themselves. They oversaw the congregations of believers and served as teachers for those first congregations.

 

However, the church began to spread to Judea, Samaria, Antioch and other cities. This growth of believers moved past the apostles’ ability to oversee all of the scattered congregations. To overcome this (good) problem, after prayerfully seeking the will of God, they went to each of the scattered churches and appointed elders from the members of each congregation. The responsibility of the elders, or overseers was to teach, preach, study the word and determine the will of Christ Jesus for each church and then direct its activity.

 

The responsibility of the Overseers or Elders was to “look over” (in Greek episkopos) the congregation. They were to be knowledgeable in what the Lord had said in his word and to guide the congregation, correct the teaching as needed and make certain that the teaching of the church remained true to the word of the Lord. They were not expected to work alone. Theirs was a group responsibility as they studied, met together, sought out the mind of God and then after determining as a group, the will of God, they were to direct the church toward accomplishing God’s will. What they were to be doing is what Paul called a “Fine Work”.

 

In verse 2 and following, Paul goes on to give sixteen requirements for a person desiring to serve the congregation as an elder.

 

2An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5(but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

 

Qualifications 1 & 2 deal with reputation. An Overseer must be:

 

1 - Above reproach – deals with problems openly, honestly, ethically. This does not mean that nothing has ever gone wrong in the life of an elder, only that he handled whatever problems came up in a manner that was above question. A reasonable extension of this qualification would be to assume that an elder would be a godly, righteous man.

 

2 - Husband of one wife – This sounds like the elder may have been married only once, but it most likely does not mean that a widower may not be married a second time. It likely indicates that he has not been divorced, which is the requirement placed on elders by many denominations, or that he is monogamous and not one who practices polygamy, a more common thing in Paul’s time than now. In an expansion of this requirement, it seems reasonable to require an elder to not be a philanderer; one who chases after women other than his wife. Also, this requirement does not necessarily mean that an elder must be married, only that there are requirements for men who are married.

 

Next come the good habits expected of an overseer. The overseer must be:

 

3 – Temperate – The elder should be calm, level headed, not given to angry actions. The term “slow to come to a boil” makes sense when considering temperance.

 

4 – Prudent – The elder should be sensible, not prone to do irrational things. He should be led by inner peace and discipline.

 

5 – Respectable – Some translations use the term dignified here. The elder should have an orderly life and a life that is a good witness to others.

 

The next group of qualifications (6 - 12) list expectations that deal with character. The overseer must be:

 

6 – Hospitable – The elder should have a home and life that is open to others within the congregation and outside of the church.

 

7 - Able to teach – One of the principal responsibilities of the body of elders was to discern the will of God and to expound and to teach scripture to the body they served. The ability to share, instruct and teach was key to their calling as elders. Many men have good character, but are unable to teach. Paul lists this ability as a requirement for serving as an elder.

 

8 - Not addicted to wine – some translations use the word “drunkard” here. Wine was the common drink in Paul’s time, since water quality was always questionable. Paul wrote that a man who falls to the habit of alcohol consumption would not function well or serve the church acceptably as an elder.

 

9 - Pugnacious - combative in nature, belligerent.

 

10 – Gentle – not violent, angry or one who attacks others.

 

11 – Peaceable – A man of peace is not insistent on always getting his own way, regardless of the cost.

 

12 - Free from the love of money – Money is a requirement for living. Love of money is not. Seeking affluence simply for the sake of obtaining money (flaunting wealth) is undesirable in an elder.

 

Finally, Paul writes that the life of an elder should be characterized by four accomplishments

 

13 – He should manage his own household well – This shows wisdom of thought and action by the elder. How an elder manages his household shows good application of all of the characteristics Paul has listed

 

14 - He keeps his own children under control with dignity – Children who are well behaved and act with dignity show consistency of parenting. Again, this demonstrates good application of all of the desirable characteristics Paul has mentioned for an elder. Obviously, children bring problems into any household, but the elder must face those problems and deal with them in a loving, dignified manner. The elder must be a good parent.

 

15 - He is not a new convert – New converts may have commendable enthusiasm but time for spiritual growth and maturity is also needed as preparation for service as an elder.  The new convert may be totally sincere in his willingness to follow the Lord to the best of his ability, but he most likely has not experienced the effect of exposure to the cross on his life. Paul most likely worried that new converts would seek to overcome self and ego through their own power, having not yet learned to seek out the Lord’s strength as their source of power in dealing with the problems of the world and worldly powers. Relying on intelligence, personality, and human reasoning seeks out self as the source of power, denying the power of Christ Jesus, in understanding that, "that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God," {Luke 16:15b KJV}. New converts may not have learned that God says he wants to work with people of a humble and a contrite heart, who have learned not to exalt themselves. A new convert means well, but he cannot be trusted because he has not yet learned to put down self and to trust in Christ. When he does this, he may allow the world to puff him up and make him proud, arrogant, and conceited. He will then fall into what Paul calls "the condemnation of the devil," i.e., the very condemnation the devil himself has achieved by his pride and arrogance.

 

16 - He must have a good reputation with those outside of the church. The elder serves the church, but his obligation to his Master and Lord is to seek out the lost and witness to a world outside of the church. Having a good reputation with those not of the church allows the elder to witness to those outside of the congregation of believers. Understanding this, Paul knew that it was desirable for an elder to have a good reputation in the eyes of others.

 

Paul set high standards for the leadership body of the church.  He knew the importance of those who desired to serve the church as elders and the importance of what they were called to accomplish. In Paul’s mind, such a desire was a noble thing.

 

 

After Overseers , Paul Addresses Deacons

 

8Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.

11Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.

12Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

 

Chapter 6 of Acts documents the first appointment of Deacons to serve the food distribution needs to the widows of the early church. In Acts 6, the Apostles established three qualifications for those who would serve as deacons. They included:

 

1 - Having a good reputation and known within the congregation to have good character

 

2 - They were to be filled with the Spirit – having a view of life in keeping with the scriptural revelation of the Spirit of God.

 

3 - They were to possess the gift of wisdom, having the ability to apply the truth of God’s Holy word to the specific situations they would encounter.

 

Deacons serve the church and the Lord by handling the daily concerns of administration, distribution, finances and whatever problems come up within the church. The deacons in Acts 6 were chosen and confirmed by the Apostles, to be the church's helpers; not the servants of the church. Although this may seem to be a technical point regarding service, the deacons were the servants of the Lord, serving in the administration of the work within the church, doing for the congregation what would be difficult for individual members within the body of believers to do for themselves.

 

The tradition of deacon service to the church evolves from this initial service to food distribution. In this thought, deacons are appointed and elected (ordained) to serve the Lord in the administration of the church, the distribution of finances or whatever problems the church might encounter.

 

Paul believed that the qualifications and expectations of deacons were similar to those of elders, and in congregations where deacon service takes on the responsibilities of elders, the qualifications to be considered as a candidate for deacon service probably should be identical. In his letter to Timothy, Paul lays out  ten qualifications.

 

Qualifications for male deacons:

 

1 – Dignity – They are serious, not flighty in thought or action. You can count on them ethically and personally.

 

2 - Not double tongued – They don’t say one thing to one person and something else to another. You can trust what they say as honest and factual. They do not twist the truth to meet the circumstance.

 

3 - Not addicted to much wine – moderate and temperate with alcohol (drugs)

 

4 - Not fond of sordid gain – not greedy for personal gain at whatever the cost or action. They are not “wheeler dealers” or out to make a fast buck. This can be especially important when dealing with those who control the finances of the church.

 

5 - Holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience – The mystery of the faith indicates the scriptures. Deacons should know, believe and follow the scriptures with a clear conscience. Clear conscience means they must practice what they preach. It is a simple fact these days that much of the world rejects the Bible, laughs at it and ridicules it, saying that it does not deal realistically with life. But those who have come to know the Bible, understand from experience that scripture is and remains true. It is the world (not God) that is confused and dealing unrealistically with life. Therefore, a deacon should be one who has understood the Word of God, who holds it and believes it himself.

 

As a side note, Paul says that Elders are to be teachers. Deacons are to hold to the mystery of the faith. They certainly may teach, but as Paul defines deacons, they are not required to be teachers.

 

6 - First be tested – This may be a question and answer session before the body of deacons, regarding knowledge and belief, but it more likely indicates that those called to serve have demonstrated a willingness and ability to serve many other times in the past. Some are asked to serve (committee, work group or otherwise) and when they perform well, are disappointed when they are quickly asked to serve again. Service to the Lord is a privilege and not a punishment. Deacons should have a record of service. In this way, they are tested for service as a deacon. 

 

7 - Beyond reproach – This indicates that there are no questions regarding the qualifications for deaconship.

 

8 - Husband of only one wife – As with elders, this indicates a commitment to a monogamous marriage relationship.

 

9 - Good managers of their own children – The conditions stated here are identical to those for an elder.

 

10 - Good managers of their household – The conditions here are identical to those of an elder.

 

Women deacons (women must likewise)

 

In the 16th chapter of Romans Paul singles out a certain woman, Phoebe, who he calls a deacon (not a deaconess, although that is the word used in several translations – there actually is no Greek word for a female deacon.). In Romans 16, Paul says Phoebe was a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, which was the port city for the city of Corinth. Paul wrote that in her service as a deacon in that congregation she had been a great help to the Apostle Paul himself.

 

Paul writes that “women must likewise” meet the qualifications for deaconship as follows:

 

1 – Meets all of the applicable male qualifications? (Paul does not say this, but it seems to fit)

 

2 – Dignified – A character of calmness, seriousness, trustworthiness. Such people are realistic, not prone to dreaming flights of fancy. Paul expected the same of women as he did of men when he used the term dignified.

 

3 - Not malicious gossips – This is interesting, because (as a joke) it might be ok for a man to be a malicious gossip. Actually this statement probably restates what Paul indicated for men as not being double-tongued.  Some translations use the term “slanderous” here.

 

I discovered from one commentary that the original Greek word used here translates as the term “she-devils”. Political correctness keeps me from going too deeply into the supposed characteristics of a “she-devil”. Evidently it described someone who slandered or wrecked the reputation of others. My common sense tells me that if there are “she-devils” who do this, there most likely also are “he-devils” who practice the same undesirable actions. Regarding this, it needs to be said that no actions will destroy a church any quicker than maliciously and falsely slandering the character of fellow members of a congregation or the staff. Such activity serves the work of the evil one better than almost any other action a person might undertake.

 

4 – Temperate – Not angry, impulsive, prone to outbursts. We might call such a person “level-headed”. Temperance applies to all actions and portions of a person’s life, including drink, food and social action. A temperate person (whether male or female) is in control of all areas of their life.

 

5 - Faithful in all things – This indicates that the person is responsible, reliable and trustworthy in the completion of any action or task. We can trust and count on a faithful person. A person faithful in all things also remains true to the scripture in belief and action.

 

13For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

 

A deacon “who serves well”

 

-          Obtains a high standing – with the congregation, but more importantly as a servant of the Lord. On a temporal level, as our standing grows, so does the opportunity for service to the church and also to the Lord.

-          Obtains a great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus (the actual word is “boldness”) - We obtain confidence, or boldness, through the positive reinforcement we experience as we act in trust. Here, Paul writes that as the deacon serves, their experiences grow them in their faith in Christ Jesus. That should be the goal for all Christians. Paul writes that the work of a deacon accomplishes that.

 

So, who are deacons?

 

If deacons are those who help carry on the work of the church, freely and voluntarily, then who are deacons? A full listing of those who freely serve the church out of love for the Lord might include:

 

Church Council members
Counting Committee
Ushers
Nursery workers
Greeters
Committee members
Family night dinner servers

Plus others who freely serve

 

The definition of deacon is most likely documented in the charter or by-laws for a given church, but all of these examples meet the New Testament spirit of what deacons did, which is to serve the Lord and the congregation.

 

 

Paul continues by sharing his hopes and desires for both Timothy and the church at Ephesus.

 

14I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

 

I am constantly reminded that Paul’s letters to Timothy were:

 

-          The letters of a father to his adopted son.

-          The letters of a discipler to the one who was being discipled.

-          The letters of the one who sent out a pastor, to the pastor who was sent.

-          The letters of a traveling evangelist to a pastor (overseer) of a church.

-          The letters of a church builder to the pastor of an established congregation.

-          Letters of instruction, assistance and hope.

And so Paul shares his hopes with Timothy, or more likely reminds Timothy what he has told him any times. Understand that the statement made in verses 14-15 come after chapter one, Paul has already reminded Timothy of the need to stay true to the scriptural message and strong against the problems plaguing the church in Ephesus. He had given Timothy instructions regarding public worship, prayer and preaching. He (in the verses immediately preceding 14-15 laid out the qualifications for those who serve the Lord in the church. Having done all of this, Paul now turns to the church itself.

 

14I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

 

Many of those who criticize the church today see it as a cold, uncaring ancient relic of ages past. They question the relevance of the church in these times, believing (and actively stating) that it has no contribution to make toward addressing the problems of today’s world.

 

Paul’s opinion was in absolute opposition to any of those thoughts. Paul’s opinion was that the church then (and the church now) is a tremendously significant body.

 

Fact #1:

 

The church is not a building. It is not the physical property on the corner of (insert address here). It is not “First XXX” or “Elm Street XXX” or “Agape Fellowship XXXX”. It has nothing to do with stained glass windows steeples or bell towers.

 

Fact #2

 

Church is not a meeting held every Sunday at 10:30 to 11:30 am (so we can beat the congregation down the street to the lunch buffet at Luther’s)

 

A study of Acts will show none of those things. In fact, from reading Acts, it is not possible to tell what kind of buildings housed the early church gatherings. Their meetings were probably held in houses, but the simple fact is that buildings have little importance in the life of a church.

 

The church is not a building or a meeting. It is people. When the people of Christ Jesus come together there is a church, or more accurately, there is His Church. Whatever the work they do when they are together is His Work. More accurately, the church consists of those people who have been reborn of the spirit of God and have entered together into a new lifestyle because of the presence of Christ Jesus in their lives and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The work (witness, sharing, giving, outreach, evangelism, training, equipping, whatever) of those people undertaken out of love and reverence for the Father and our Lord is the work of His Church.

 

The early Christians met as small groups. They met as large groups. They met with (daily) frequency and whenever anything special (a visit by Paul) allowed them to gather.

 

In v: 14-15, Paul uses two descriptive phrases to describe the church.

 

He calls the church, "the household of God". This suggests family intimacy and warmth, a gathering of close relations.

 

He also calls it, "the church of the living God." This suggests excitement, power and the direct involvement of God in the church.

 

To Paul, that is what the church was. To Paul the household of God and Church of the living God explain the makeup and nature of the church.

 

To Paul, the household of God included God and his people in the place where, like the Old Testament tabernacle of the nation of Israel in the wilderness was the place where they came together. To Paul, that New Testament Tabernacle was the church.

 

In the third chapter of Hebrews, we are told that Moses served faithfully as a servant to the Lord in the Tabernacle and that Jesus serves as God's son in his house. Then the author of Hebrews tells us that we are his house (Hebrews 3:6b). We are the household of God. In these times, the place to find God is in church, where the church is at work, where the people of God are. We are the household of God.

 

Paul goes on the tell Timothy that we are the church of the living God. We are the pillar and support of the truth. As those who have been redeemed by the Lamb, we know that Christ lives within us and as Christ the son lives is us, God the father also lives within us through the Holy Spirit. Paul had experienced this fact of relationship many times. He knew from experience that we are the church of the living God. He knew that in our relationship with God through Christ Jesus, God and his son have chosen to use the Church to complete the work that Christ Jesus began. In that way, we are the pillar and support of the church of the living God. The church is God's instrument for change. It is the way God chose to accomplish all of his desires for mankind. In spite of our weakness, and failures, it is his way and he will not allow it to fail. As Jesus announced right at the very beginning, "On this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," (Matt 16:18). He guarantees that to be the case. That is the church of Ephesus that Paul was writing to Timothy about and the church that exists today.

 

Paul’s Confession of Faith

 

Many churches use the Apostles' Creed as a statement or confession of faith in their weekly worship services by making the verbal confession as a group statement.

 

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth
and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilot,
was crucified, dead and buried.
On the third day he arose from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and sits at the right hand
of God the father almighty
from where he shall come to judge
the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sin,
the resurrection of the body
and the life everlasting.

 

There are several other creeds, or statements of belief that formalize the basic beliefs of Christians. These have existed in one form or another from about 400 AD.

 

Then there is this statement of faith (verse 16) that Paul shares with Timothy, which dates back to the first century church.

 

Having covered qualifications for service and his hopes for the church, Paul ends this portion of this letter with a beautiful statement of faith. Some bible scholars believe that, based on structure and sequence that verse 16 may actually be a hymn of that time.

 

16By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:
     He who was revealed in the flesh,
     Was vindicated in the Spirit,
     Seen by angels,
     Proclaimed among the nations,
     Believed on in the world,
     Taken up in glory.
(1 Timothy 3:16 NASV)

 

The old Standard Revised Translation is not as accurate, but may be more easily read.

 

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:
 He was manifested in the flesh,
 vindicated in the Spirit,
 seen by angels,
 preached among the nations,
 believed on in the world,
 taken up in glory.
(1 Tim 3:16 RSV)

 

A Look at verse 16 from both translations:

 

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion (godliness):
This is significant. It is a central truth of our belief that the worldly mind does not understand. It is an understanding given to the believer. This truth is given to the believer by the spirit of God. The word translated as Godliness might actually be translated as “wholeness”. Paul writes that great is the mystery of how God has made us whole.

 

How does God make us whole? – Through Christ Jesus. God did not do it through a religion. He did not do it through a philosophy. It was accomplished through a man, Christ Jesus.

 

He was manifested (revealed) in the flesh,  - Christ Jesus came here. He was revealed to us, not as God, not as spirit, but God became Man and “dwelled among us”. God chose not to come to mankind as anything other than mankind. That was his plan. God would become us to bring us back to him. While Christ was here, he was flesh.

vindicated in the Spirit, - Christ Jesus came as man, but he was vindicated (justified) by spirit. This could mean that he was justified by the Holy Spirit of God, acting on his temporal life while he was here, or an equally beautiful interpretation might be that Christ the man, had the spirit of man within him, that he experienced the same thoughts temptations, emotions as mankind while he was here with us. As any other man, he experienced joy, sadness, hunger, rejection, separation, life and death. While here, he was man in all respects, so that he could take on the sins of man.

 

John gets very close to this in the first chapter of his Gospel:

 

The Word became flesh...full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Begotten of the Father.  (John 1:14)

 

 
(He was) seen by angels,
- We know they were present at his birth. They were present on Easter Morning at the empty tomb. They witnessed his baptism. They were with the Apostles at his ascension. They evidently witnessed and studied his entire life and ministry. The word we translate as seen "Optanomai" is also the word for eyeball. This line could be translated as, “Jesus was eyeballed by the angles.”


(He was) preached among the nations, 
- There is an old hymn that we sing:

 

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

 

That message has been sung as a witness by thousands of pardoned men and women. For almost 2000 years now, Jesus (his life, ministry, act of redemption, the very power of his name) has been preached among the nations. The gospel message is being shared hundreds of times each minute, even now, almost two thousand years later. Men and women spread the gospel through the nations. We are the source of the preaching that Paul shares in this testimony of the early church.

(He was) believed on in the world, - When Jesus ascended there were about 120 believers (give or take). The story they had to share was one of a carpenter from Galilee, an itinerate Rabbi who was executed by the Romans between two thieves. And before the end of 70 years, the message he preached of deliverance from sin had been preached throughout the known world and had brought salvation to believers among every nation where it had been shared. It remains the same today. For almost two thousand years now, wherever the gospel message is shared, lives are changed. There is no part of the world where this has this not occurred. In Christ Jesus’ day, to simply hear him was enough for many. In our day, it is the same with the gospel message coming from us. Belief on him is not limited on the basis of age, financial status, or political belief.


(He was) taken up in glory.
– Jesus was already glorified when he ascended (went back to heaven), but his ascension was only the beginning of the miracle of redemption to those who came after him. The glorification of Christ Jesus fully explains the miracle of transformed lives two thousand years after his ascension and the ongoing miracle of redemption for those who call on the name of the Lamb of God. His story began in Heaven and it ends in Heaven.

 

William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote this about Jesus in his Readings in St. John's Gospel. 

 

“In the days of His earthly ministry, only those could speak to Him who came where He was. If He was in Galilee, men could not find Him in Jerusalem; if He was in Jerusalem, men could not find Him in Galilee. But His Ascension means that He is perfectly united with God; we are with Him wherever we are present to God; and that is everywhere and always. Because He is ‘in Heave’ He is everywhere on earth; because He is ascended, He is here now. Our devotion is not to hold us by the empty tomb; it must lift up our hearts to heaven so that we too ‘in heart and mind thither ascend and with Him continually dwell’; it must also send us forth into the world to do His will; and these are not two things, but one.”

 

So, what is the mystery of our godliness and wholeness?

 

The testimony that Paul shared with Timothy in this old hymn is Christianity as it was intended. It is what God wanted our relationship with him to be. All of this has nothing to do with religion. Religion is man's stumbling through the dark in a groping, fumbling search, looking for something bigger than himself that he can believe in when it gets darkest. But Christianity is not that. Christianity is a living person (Christ Jesus) made available to us by the Holy Spirit, now standing beside the throne of the Father every moment of every day, pleading our case, claiming us as his own, purchased with his blood, granting to us the courage, the power, the cleansing, purity and abundant grace to live as God's men and God's women in whatever situation we may encounter.

 

That is Christianity - the great mystery of the godliness and wholeness in our lives.

 

 

Copyright © 2008, by ToBeLikeHim Ministries

 

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